July 2022 Sesshin, Day 4: Zen Letters: Teachings of Yuanwu (trans. by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
5:35PM Aug 3, 2022
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is the fourth day of this July 2022. seven day sesshin. I misspoke yesterday when I said yesterday I said it was the fourth day we will fix it in production. I'm going to switch horses here and go from the Japanese Zen master Musso, Kochi. 200 years earlier. Chinese Zen Master Yuanwu.
Yuanwu is credited with authoring the Blue Cliff Record. One of the two or three most commonly used koan collections by teachers have used koans.
I dipped into this in the last session, I'll, of course be reading other segments of it. But I won't go into his biography. This is from a book called Zen letters, teachings of Yuanwu Translated by JC Clary and his brother Thomas Clary.
Zahra letters obviously, the back of the book letter is written by him to various fellow teachers, disciples and lay students, women, men, householders, as well as monks and nuns.
Here we are, you want to buy even speaking of phrase to you, I've already doused you with dirty water. It will be even worse for me to put a twinkle in my eye and raise my eyebrow to you. Or wrap on the meditation seat. Or hold up a whisk or demand. What is this as for shouting and hitting, it's obvious that this is just a pile of bones on level ground
can so so relate to this, the sentiments he's expressing here by speaking or even a phrase have already doused you with dirty water
weighs perfect, like vast space, without lack or excess. And yet, we then teachers are charged with trying to bring that more to light. And by using words. There are anecdotes, even a koan or two with a master of sending the the seat and just sitting in silence. Can't do that every day. And so we have these, these texts by these illustrious masters to comment on and knowing that sometimes for some people, it can muddy the waters. And in a way, it's Almighty because we are all equally endowed with this original nature of wisdom. We all know it. All of you know it. That sense? This is just a pile of bones on perfectly level ground
these these examples, put a twinkle in my eye raised my eyebrow to you and so forth. Just little ways of devices. But he's even rejecting these things are not rejecting Him because He goes on speaking but but just just acknowledging, acknowledging that there's a real is a real contradiction here to try to clarify what in all of us is 100%? Perfectly clear?
I always feel you know when we're about to do the Hacohen I koans Chan, Chan in praise of Zen. There's that that silence of, I don't know, 20 or 30 seconds before, just letting everything settle down before I announced. Zen master Hakuin is chanting. It said it's that silence. I think that's enough, it would be enough
there was a Chinese master who pretty much did that ever, every time someone would come and ask him about the Dharma, he would just turn his back on them. Find out yourself. You know it. You've always known it.
And yet, here we are. There are also the type who don't know good from bad, and ask questions about Buddha, Dharma, Zen, and the Tao. They asked to be helped. They begged to be received. They seek knowledge and sayings and theories relating to the Buddha's teaching and to transcending the world and to accommodating the world. This is washing dirt in mud, and washing mud and dirt. When will they ever managed to clear it away? suggesting here that often these questions are not sincere. They're not heartfelt that students sometimes think they have to rummage up something to bring to Doakes on. teacher knows that this is a device that is really completely unnecessary. I've said 1000 times that you don't need to come bring anything to ducks on except your practice. You don't need to justify coming to ducks and you don't need a reason to come to UC San doke sounds beyond reason.
Some people hear this kind of talk and jump to conclusions claiming I understand. Fundamentally there is nothing to Buddhism. It's there in everybody. As I spend my days eating food and wearing clothes, has there ever been anything lacking? Then they settle down in the realm of unconcerned ordinariness. Far from realizing that nothing like this has ever been part of the real practice of Buddhism. And is as a thought. Awakening reveals that fundamentally, there has never been a single thing. And it is in everybody. And there has never been anything lacking. True, true, true. But then, to have not confirmed that through one's own experience, but just utter these kinds of things that they've learned. That's what Yuanwu is referring to here. This is what we learned in the three pillars of Zen is called bogies and just settling into the original the original Buddhahood of everybody and leaving with that with no No sense of the importance of confirming it through awakening
he continues, so we know that you must be someone genuinely within the tradition before you can be fully familiar with the fundamental portion of the vehicle of the school that has come down from time immemorial. If you really have an entry into enlightenment, then you know when to start and when to stop, when to advance and when to withdraw. And you can distinguish what is permissible from what is not.
And a lot of ways of interpreting this. We can even refer it and apply it to late night sitting he has a when to start when to stop, when to advance when to withdraw. It's one of the most thorny issues for so many people is how much sleep should I get? How much do I need? That's that's the real issue is distinguishing between want and need. Most of us would want to sleep for eight or nine hours, wouldn't that be sweet? But how much do we need? How much sleep do we need, especially during sesshin reusing the mind in a way that is so different from the way we ordinarily use it out there in the world? We are conserving energy and accumulating energy through all this sitting. We shouldn't assume anything as far as well, how much sleep we need.
It's a challenge is to have it have an open question each night and 930. or later, also, is how much further can I go without just being foolish for sound asleep in the Zendo, then get some sleep, go to bed. So it's playing the edge isn't that it's and it's King, we are continually renegotiating it. We can't find that on say Night, night number three, such and such so many certain number of hours worked for us. So that would be the same the next night? No, the tendency is a general tendency. tendency is that we need less as the days pass. But then even that there can be time when we just feel overcome by tiredness and then we can get more a little more sleep. There's no There's no fixed number of hours that anyone can tell anyone else. The important thing is to be open to it. And then, over time or for the NAFSA Sheen's you do find a pattern that is fairly reliable, still with the possibility of exceptions. Find out maybe when when you work best when it's the quality of the sitting is better than other times during the night or I just just sorted out to some degree after a while while still acknowledging that it can can be different each night.
Because I'm leaving behind all leakages. That's a favorite Chinese term or translation of a Chinese term meaning the mind wandering leaving behind all leakages day by Do you get closer to the truth and more familiar with it? The truth, such a doll, dry word that truth that we can experience that we can embody it. As we go on. You can start by saying if it can't be the truth, if it's thoughts. As you go further, you change like a panther who no longer sticks to its den. You leap out of the corral then you no longer doubt all the sayings of the world's enlightened teachers. You are like cast iron. This is precisely the time to apply effort and cultivate practice and nourish your realization
cast iron, the supreme groundedness especially the groundedness that comes from a mind and a mind, empty of thoughts.
After that, you can kindle the inexhaustible lamp and travel the unobstructed path. You relinquish your body and your life to rescue living beings. Liberate, let's say liberate, you enable them to come out of their cages and eliminate their attachments and bonds. You cure them of the diseases of being attached to being enlightened. So that having emerged from the deep pit of liberation, they can become uncontrived, unencumbered, joyfully alive people of the path. This phrase, having emerged from a deep pit of liberation, that is, the trap of of thinking, with awakening that you've achieved anything that you didn't already have, that everyone has for the beginning. That is any, any, any odor and Zen stink of attainment, specialness has to go in order to be uncontrived, unencumbered, joy for your life people the path
unencumbered by the thought process. Our thoughts this is the the problem is that our thoughts can be so subtle that we don't notice them. We don't notice that there's some faint, faint clinging to the notion of, of having attained something or some notion of oneself as in any real way on enlightened from the very beginning. He's layers and layers of notions ideas that have piled up over this life and previous lives. Psych sesshin are practice broadly, broadly speaking, ongoing practices is a practice of excavating these little impurities in the mind.
ideas we cling to that we don't know or cling to.
And then he goes on to what's most important when you yourself have crossed over. You must not abandon the carrying out of your bodhisattva vows. You must be mindful of safe, liberating all beings and steadfastly endure the attendant hardship and toil in order to serve as a boat on the ocean of all knowledge. Only then will you have some accord who With the path
it's talking about the, the mandate of a teacher. Be mindful of liberating all beings steadfastly steadfastly endure the hardship and toil, in order to serve as a boat, on the ocean of all knowledge, a fairy that you can guide other beings across. But not only teachers, we can apply more broadly, to anything, anything in practice that we've realized, even short of awakening, we have the responsibility of somehow using it to, to help others sharing whatever we've acquired, or rather, Zen terms, whatever we've lost, whatever we've gotten free of, to extend that out to others.
And then he says, Don't be a brittle pillar, or a feeble lamp. Don't bat around your little clean ball of inner mystical experience. You may have understood for yourself, but what good does it do? That is for others. Here's the strong promotion of the MaHA Jana were the two main divisions of Buddhism, the Tera, Vaada, and the Mahayana. The Tera Vaada, in generally emphasizes the need to just come to awakening for oneself. So that they say only for oneself, but there's the absence and the Tera Vaada, of what is so central to the Mahayana, which is doing it for the sake of all beings. And this can be a great turning point in one's practice, when you start to realize that this is for the sake of all beings. There could be no no resolution if it's just for oneself, who would want that who would? Who would be at rest, if even with some awakening? As long as there's so many billions of people suffering all over the world, how can that be any point of rest, we have to find ways to extend ourselves reach out for others to others. If anything through ongoing practice, we become more sensitive to others suffering.
Here's another letter. Brave spirited monks possess an outstanding, extraordinary aspect. with great determination they give up conventional society. They look upon worldly status and evanescent fame, as dust in the wind, as clouds floating by as echoes in a valley that's, that's the real the traditional pure monastic calling, but it's it's also to a lesser degree, it's also president in those who are getting ordained give up conventional society. Look upon worldly status and FNS and famous dust in the wind
he goes on since they already have great faculties in great capacity from the past. They know that this level exists and they transcend birth and death and move beyond holy an ordinary think he's probably referring here. Great capacity from the past to have reached this point we're of ordination means to have sown a lot of good karma from the past, past lifetimes.
This is the indestructible true essence that all the enlightened ones of all times witness, the wondrous mind that alone the generation of enlightened teachers have communicated.
To tread this unique path to be a fragrant elephant, or a giant golden winged bird, it is necessary to charge past the millions of categories and types and fly above them to cut off the flow and brush against the heavens. How could the Enlightened willingly be petty creatures confined within distinctions of high and low and victory and defeat, trying futilely to make comparative judgments of instantaneous experience and being utterly turned around by gain and loss? He's pointing to a quite a lofty state of attainment here. Freedom from these worldly dualistic worldly concerns that dominate the minds of most people.
We talk in Zen about live words, as compared to dead words, dead words or abstract words. They're and they're, they're words that especially in oral terms, words that don't come out of the guts they come out of, out of the head. This Yuanwu is as much as a the of the Zen masters just really such capacity with live words, concrete words. Here bringing forth this image of a giant golden winged bird charging past the millions of categories and types and flying above them, to cut off the flow and brush against the heavens and see why his his book, Blue Cliff Record is regarded as one of the greatest works of Chinese literature even by non Buddhist people.
You he goes on for this reason, in olden times, the people of great enlightenment did not pay attention to trivial matters, and did not aspire to the shallow and easily accessible. have to think of all the garbage that comes in on our news feeds. All the crap of celebrities and snarky comments all the Facebook carping and nastiness and quibbling. They arouse their determination to transcend the Buddhas and patriarchs. They wanted to bear the heavy responsibility that no one can fully take up to liberate all living beings, to remove suffering and bring peace to smash the ignorance and blindness that obstructs the way they wanted to break the poisonous arrows of ignorant folly and extract the thorns of arbitrary views from the eye of reality. They wanted to make the scenery of the fundamental ground clear and reveal the original face before the empty em.
think some of this is just so, so rich that too, to comment on too much of it is to diminish it.
But like just with this, this one is trivial matters, they did not pay attention to trivial matters. Of course, he wasn't referring to anything that I just referred to in contemporary terms. But you could say trivial matters could also be little insights that we can come up, bubbled up during sitting and making too much of that. Psychological insights, philosophical insights
someone in another tradition said, Whoever desires the ocean, makes light of streams. The basic uncompromising nature of Zen at its purest, where it doesn't matter what we experience, we just move on. Discard, discard, leave it behind
there's a saying from the island of Crete leave where you have succeeded, return where you have failed. In many ways, it's a good good mandate for Zen Zen practice. Return where you have failed, we fail 100 times an hour, 1000 times an hour. When the mind wanders, we just go back. Let's go back.
And then he adds, he should train your mind and value actual practice wholeheartedly. exerting all your power, not shrinking from the cold or the heat. Go to the spot where you meditate and kill your mental monkey and slay your intellectual horse. Make yourself like a dead tree like a withered stump.
These can be misleading. These are pretty common terms as referring to a great state of of emptying out. A dead tree a weathered stump, is without his great admiration is this without any grasping any self. It's beyond self beyond ego.
Here's another one, my teacher would zoo often said, I've been here for five decades. And I've seen 1000s of 1000s of Zen followers, come up to the corner of my meditation seat. Dogs and they were all just seeking to become Buddhas and to expound Buddhism. I have never seen a single genuine wearer of the patched robe. And then, you want to Mu comments how true this is? As we observe the present time, even those who expound the Dharma are hard to find, much less any genuine people. The age is in decline, and the sages are further and further distant. In the whole great land of China, the lineage of Buddha is dying out right before our very eyes. We may find one person or half a person who is putting the Dharma into practice, but we we would not do err, to expect them to be like the great exemplars of enlightenment, the dragons and elephants of your and I did read recently that in this the 12th century of Yuanwu, the Buddhism and Chan Chan Buddhism in China was in decline.
This is, this is after the great Tang Dynasty and, and now it's the Song Dynasty. And it continued to decline, not every sounds but largely. And then until it hit the Cultural Revolution for mid 60s to mid 70s. And the Red Guards went on a rampage and burned down 1000s of monasteries. And now it's kind of limping back, got the backing of the government, which is a double edged sword, because they face support that the government supports the monasteries, then they have to toe the line. But at least there's some signs of green grass coming up out of the asphalt it's very hard for us as outsiders to assess the vitality, the authenticity of what's going on now and in China, when when that the people there are so adept, the government especially is so adept at creating a certain image certain presentation to draw, they've learned that he is a certain tour tourism draw, to get people to see these Buddhist monasteries.
And then, some constellation has has, nevertheless, if you simply know the procedures and aims of practical application of the Dharma, and carry on correctly from beginning to end, you're already producing a lotus from within the fire.
As long as we are doing our best, then he's still a lot of promise for for every single one of us.
And then, to end this letter, he says, You must put aside all the conditioning that entangled you, then you will be able to perceive the inner content of the great enlightenment that has come down since ancient times. Be at rest wherever you are, and carry on the secret, closely continuous, intimate level practice. The devas will have no road to strew flowers on and demons and outsiders will not be able to find your tracks. This is what it means to truly leave home and thoroughly understand oneself. Again, talking to monks in this letter. Put aside all the conditioning that entangled you to be clear, we don't have to put anything aside. It is put aside through our absorption in the practice. It happens on its own
there's no one here to put anything aside.
In the in the hallway, outside the ducks on waiting line there is this magnificent figure of my juicery the bodhisattva wisdom brandishing the sword, that delusion cutting sort of wisdom. That too can be misleading. We don't need to, to to cut anything. As long as we're we're not nourishing our thoughts as long as we're not dwelling in our thoughts. That's the cutting
It's a way of speech, it's active, it's lively. Then master bacilli saying, cut, cut, cut cut. But it has I have heard from people who are confused, it's just redirecting our attention. When we notice that his wandered, just swing it back, pivot back to the practice we're working on. That's the putting aside, that's the cutting.
says if you want to attain intimacy, the translator capitalizes that intimacy could say Samadhi. Which is more of a word more from the Indian tradition. If you want to attain intimacy, the first thing is, don't seek it. If you attain through seeking, you've already fallen into interpretive understanding. He's just alerting us to the danger of grasping when all we really need to do is just merge with the practice of working on. Searching, questioning, wandering, is not seeking really, I think that's maybe it's a fine distinction, but it is a difference. I think I think seeking implies some goal out there says this is especially true because this great Treasury extends through all times, clearly evident, empty and bright. Since time without beginning it has been your own basic route. You depend on its power entirely and all your actions
its functioning, when we walk, it's functioning. When we drink water, it's functioning when we're washing our hands it's all right here
you will only pass through to freedom when you cease and desist to the point that not even a single thought is born. Then you penetrate through without falling into sense and matter. And without dwelling and conceptualizations and mental images
were seized describing a seem so maybe to some people so inaccessible, so remote, but it's not. It is right here. We can just believe this. Believe in the practice. That's all it takes complete faith in the practice to the exclusion of everything else. Faith in the practice means faith in the process.